Grumman F-14 TOMCAT gallery 2

(F-14A image). In 1988, bomb launching tests began so that the F-14 Tomcat could improve its ground attack capabilities. In 1990 it was authorized to use unguided bombs, resulting in the F-14B being known as “Bombcats” ever since. However, despite the authorization, during the 1991 Gulf War the F-14s were dedicated exclusively to air defense operations, so their participation in this campaign did not stand out due to the lack of activity of the Iraqi Air Force, swept from the skies and the ground by the USAF. After Operation Desert Storm, all F-14A and B received improvements to their avionics and their cockpits were modernized, having practically the same capabilities as the F-14D. Therefore, and theoretically, the ground attack capabilities should have been similar to that of the F/A-18, although this role had never been developed by the Tomcats.
(F-14+/B image). In 1994, given the retirement of the Grumman A-6 Intruder and the delay in the arrival of the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the search began for a temporary solution that did not imply having to start an expensive program of billions of dollars. The solution was found by installing the “Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN)” targeting pod. This device was composed by a laser target designator to direct laser-guided bombs and missiles and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera for night and bad weather operations.
(F-14+/B image). Although the incorporation of the LANTIRN greatly improved the attack capabilities of the Tomcat, they could not be increased further since this version of the LANTIRN lacked the AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod with terrain-following radar and a wide-angle FLIR and only consisted of the AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod with a FLIR and a laser target designator. The installation of the AN/AAQ-13 was omitted because a costly and complicated modification of the operating software was necessary, which would have made its integration into the Tomcat unaffordable.
(F-14+/B image). The LANTIRN installed on the F-14 is coupled with a GPS system and an inertial measurement system (IMU) that generate a stable image of the target that greatly improves the accuracy of the infrared sensor. The information is combined with that offered by the radar and presented on a screen to the radar intercept officer (RIO) who can quickly change from air-to-air to air-to-surface mode as the F/A-18 Hornet does. Both radar data and FLIR images can be recorded for later analysis.
(F-14+/B image). In 2001, attack capabilities were further increased, achieving a truly multirole Tomcat for the first time. ANVIS-9 NVG night vision goggles were acquired and the LANTIRN was upgraded to perform operations from 12,000 meters altitude (LANTIRN 40K). Later, a new digital flight control system and the Fast Tactical Imagery (FTI) and Tomcat Tactical Targeting (T3) systems were included, capable of transmitting reconnaissance images in real time. In 2003, the new GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs were added to their armament, so at this time, the F-14s were the only US Navy aircraft capable of carrying out long-range precision strikes in all-weather condition.
In June 1985, NASA received an F-14A to begin a series of tests with a flight control system known as Aileron-Rudder-Interconnect (ARI). This system was intended to prevent spins and coordinate turns during high angle of attack maneuvers. The aircraft was modified by installing several moving parts (canards) in the nose and extensively modifying the analog flight control. In 1986, flights were carried out within the “Variable Sweep Flight Test Experiment” program to study the air flows generated in variable sweep wings. In the fall of 1987, after completing both experiments, NASA returned the aircraft to the Navy, which put it back into fleet service.
(F-14+/B image). In addition to the variants already detailed, there were two main projects to modernize the F-14A. The first was called F-14C and took place while the F-14B program was being developed. It consisted of modernizing the F-14B with new avionics, radar and a fire control system compatible with that of the A-6E Intruder, E-2C Hawkeye and F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. It would also have General Electric F101 DFE engines and other new electronic equipment. Finally, this variant was not accepted, although all the new equipment was later incorporated into the F-14A/A+ and D.
(F-14D image). The second program was called “ST-21” (Super Tomcat 21) and took place during the 1990s to provide the F-14 with greater ground attack capabilities and meet the requirements of the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) program. To this end, the aircraft’s airframe would be made mostly of composite materials that would reduce its signature radar and new equipment would be included to improve its ground attack capacity while keeping its air-to-air capabilities intact. It would also have new high bypass turbofan engines that would allow the Tomcat a supercruise speed of Mach 1.3 and improve its fuel consumption and range. Finally this project was also canceled due to its high cost.
(F-14A image). In June 1972, the F-14A began its career within the US Navy joining the VF-124 “Gunfighters” squadron, a unit belonging to the Pacific Fleet. In this squadron the flight and ground crews were trained along with the VF-1 “Wolfpack” and VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” squadrons, created for this purpose in October 1972. Finally in September 1974, the three squadrons deployed to the CVN-65 USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, declaring the F-14A Tomcat fully operational. In April 1975 they carried out their first combat mission during the withdrawal from Saigon doing Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions protecting the Fleet.
(F-14A image). The first deployment of the Tomcat with the Atlantic Fleet occurred in June 1975 aboard the CV-67 USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. Squadrons VF-14 “Tophatters” and VF-32 “Swordsmen”, forming part of Carrier Air Wing Three, cruised the Mediterranean until January 1976 along with other ships of the 6th Fleet. During deployments they used to carry out 3 types of missions, Barrier Combat Air Patrol (BARCAP), Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and long range intercept. Normally some F-14s were maintained in Five Minutes Alert status (Alert Five) serving as deck launched interceptor (DLI) to identify aircraft approaching the Fleet or to intercept aircraft that had penetrated the external screen of patrol fighters.
(F-14A image). In CAP missions, the F-14s were located approximately 280 km from the aircraft carrier and received information from the AWACS E-2 Hawkeye aircraft located approximately 90 km in front of them, so they were warned of enemy contacts 540 km away. During BARCAP missions, Tomcat patrols were located 925 km from the aircraft carrier and thanks to the more than 300 km detection range of the AWG-9 radar, it could detect enemy aircraft when they were 1,200 km away from the aircraft carrier, although the range of the missiles was about 200 km, so they had to wait until the targets were “only” about 1,100 km away from the battle group.
(F-14A image). During long intercept missions, up to 6 Phoenix missiles could be carried (theorically), but the great weight and drag of the Phoenix missiles greatly reduced the capabilities of the Tomcat, and carrying 6 missiles could mean exceeding the maximum landing weight allowed, so it was usual not to carry more than 4 missiles. In case of carrying 6, if none were used during the mission, there was a risk of having to throw some into the sea, and at a price of 2 million dollars per Phoenix missile, it was not an acceptable option. On BARCAP missions it could carry up to 4 Sparrow missiles plus 4 Sidewinder or 6 AMRAAM missiles and on short distance missions it carried 4 Phoenix plus 2 Sparrow and 2 Sidewinder.
(F-14A image). In 1981, following the retirement of the RF-8G Crusaders and RA-5C Vigilante reconnaissance aircraft, around 50 Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) were acquired so that the F-14A could perform photographic reconnaissance missions. This device was mounted on the fuselage weapons station five and consisted of 3 sensors. These were: a two-position KS-87B framing camera for forward oblique and vertical photography, a 9-inch focal length high resolution KA-99A low/medium altitude panoramic camera and an AAD-5A infrared line scan system. Usually 3 aircraft within a single VF squadron belonging to the Carrier Air Wing were equipped with TARPS. The first squadron to use TARPS was VF-84 “Jolly Rogers” aboard the CVN-68 USS Nimitz.
(F-14A image). The Tomcat achieved its first kills on August 19, 1981 during the “Gulf of Sidra incident”. That morning two Libyan Su-22 “Fitter J” fired an AA-2 “Atoll” missile against two F-14A of the VF-41 “Black Aces” squadron belonging to the CVN-68 USS Nimitz. The two Tomcats responded to the aggression and shot down the two Libyan fighters with Sidewinder missiles. On October 10, 1985, one of the most famous Tomcat missions occurred when four F-14As from VF-74 “Bedevilers” and VF-103 “Sluggers” squadrons, belonging to the CV-60 USS Saratoga carrier, intercepted an EgyptAir Boeing 737 that carried the kidnappers of the Italian cruise liner MS Achille Lauro. The 4 fighters surrounded the B-737 and forced it to land at the NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily, giving rise to a serious diplomatic crisis between Egypt, the United States and Italy.
(F-14+/B image). Between 1980 and 1989, F-14 Tomcat from different US Navy aircraft carriers were involved in a large number of combat missions against Libyan fighters. Another serious incident took place on January 9, 1989 when two Tomcats from VF-32 “Swordsmen” squadron, belonging to the CV-67 USS John F. Kennedy carrier, shot down two Libyan MiG-23 “Floggers”. About 90 km from the Libyan coast, two MiG-23s were detected flying directly towards two Tomcats that were on patrol. After verifying that the Libyan fighters were still approaching, the Tomcats began a combat against them that lasted 8 minutes, and which ended with the downing of the two Libyan fighters. One was destroyed with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile and the other was shot down by an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.
(F-14+/B image). During the famous 1991 Gulf War, the Tomcats played a second-rate role. Although the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS Independence (CV-62) carrier battle groups were among the first units to arrive in the area in August 1990, their aircraft were limited to long-distance air patrols and attack aircraft escort missions throughout the war. However, on February 6, 1991, a Tomcat belonging to VF-1 “Wolfpack” squadron achieved an air-to-air kill by shooting down an Iraqi Mil Mi-8 helicopter with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. Likewise, during this war the Tomcat suffered its first and only combat shootdown by hostile fire of its career when an F-14B of VF-103 “Sluggers” squadron was shot down by an Iraqi SA-2 “Guideline” surface-to-air missile while carrying out a escort mission.
(F-14D image). After the 1991 Gulf War, serious consideration was given to retiring the F-14s, but the retirement of the A-6 Intruder strike aircrafts forced the Navy to keep them in service and improve their ground attack capabilities. Between 1991 and 2003, the Tomcat was present in all operations carried out over Iraq, performing aerial reconnaissance, fighter escort, combat air patrol and air interdiction missions. On December 19, 1998, the F-14Ds carried out their first combat missions, when several of them from VF-213 “Black Lions” squadron belonging to the Carrier Air Wing of the CVN-70 USS Carl Vinson carried out several strike missions within the Operation Desert Fox.
(F-14D image). On January 5, 1999, two F-14Ds from VF-213 “Black Lions” squadron detected several Iraqi aircraft within the declared “no-fly zone” and proceeded to identify them. They were two MiG-23 “Flogger”, which immediately fled, and a MiG-25 “Foxbat” that continued to approach. The two F-14Ds fired two AIM-54 Phoenix missiles from a great distance, but the engines on both missiles failed and missed the Foxbat. This was the first time a Phoenix missile was launched during a real combat mission. Later, on September 9, 1999, another Tomcat of the VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” squadron launched a Phoenix missile during a combat against an Iraqi MiG-23 without results.
(F-14D image). In August and September 1995, during Operation Deliberate Force launched by NATO against the Bosnian Serb Army, the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) carrier was deployed to the Adriatic Sea. Her F-14 squadrons, VF-14 “Tophatters” and VF-41 “Black Aces”, supported the operations by carrying out more than 500 sorties in which they carried out several air strikes. In fact, on September 5, two F-14As from VF-41 squadron were the first Tomcats to launch laser-guided bombs in combat, attacking an ammunition depot in eastern Bosnia.
(F-14D image). Almost four years later, between April June 1999, squadrons VF-14 “Tophatters” and VF-41 “Black Aces” participated in Operation Allied Force, carried out by NATO against Serbian Forces in Kosovo. On this occasion the Tomcats carried out combat air patrol, strike and escort missions and reconnaissance missions with their TARPS pods. During these two months of operations, the F-14s of the VF-41 “Black Aces” squadron launched about 350 laser-guided bombs.
(F-14+/B image). The next campaign in which the F-14s were present was the famous Operation Enduring Freedom against Afghanistan. The Tomcats were deployed in the Indian Ocean between 2001 and 2003 performing ground support, long-range strikes and reconnaissance missions. At least 8 squadrons (VF-11 “Red Rippers”, VF-14 “Tophatters”, VF-41 “Black Aces”, VF-102 “Diamondbacks”, VF-103 “Jolly Rogers”, VF-143 “Pukin’ Dogs” “, VF-211 “Fighting Checkmates” and VF-213 “Black Lions”) participated in the campaign carrying out attack missions in which they dropped some 635 tons of bombs, mostly laser-guided bombs (about 1,500).
(F-14+/B image). During the missions in Operation Enduring Freedom the Tomcat once again marked some milestones within the US Navy. Thus, the F-14s of the VF-11 “Red Rippers” and VF-143 “Pukin’ Dogs” squadrons were the first to launch JDAM bombs in combat. Additionally, the VF-41 “Black Aces” squadron launched some 200 laser-guided bombs in this campaign with 82% hits on the targets, more than any other squadron in the history of the US Navy.
(F-14D image). The last campaign carried out by the F-14 Tomcat was Operation Iraqi Freedom, developed between 2003 and 2006. On this occasion, the squadrons VF-2 “Bounty Hunters”, VF-31 “Tomcatters”, VF-32 “Swordsmen”, VF-154 “Black Knights” and VF-213 “Black Lions” carried out more than 2,500 sorties dropping some 1,450 Mk-82, JDAM and GBU bombs. As a curious fact, it was several F-14Ds that destroyed Saddam Hussein Al-Mansur’s yacht. The last deployment of the F-14 took place between September 2005 and March 2006 and it was up to the VF-31 “Tomcatters” and VF-213 “Black Lions” squadrons to write the last lines in the “combat diary” of this majestic aircraft.
(F-14+/B image). Although the US Navy intended to keep the Tomcat active until 2010, high operating costs led to the decision to advance its retirement. In summary, the 632 F-14 Tomcats of all variants built for the US Navy served in 24 embarked fighter squadrons (VF) plus the VF-126 “Bandits” training squadron of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), in 4 Naval Air Systems Command Test and Evaluation squadrons, 2 Fleet Replacement squadrons, 4 Naval Air Force Reserve squadrons and 3 Naval Air Force Reserve Squadron Augmentation Units.
(F-14D image). During its long career of 32 years, 34 Tomcats were lost, 2 of them on combat missions. The last official flight of the Tomcat was carried out on September 22, 2006 at Naval Air Station Oceana although the last flight carried out by a US Navy F-14 occurred on October 4, 2006, when an F-14D was transferred from the Naval Air Station Oceana to Republic Airport on Long Island, New York.
(F-14+/B image). The magnitude that this aircraft has had in the history of American aviation is demonstrated by the high number of F-14 Tomcats preserved in military installations and museums throughout the United States. A total of 81 Tomcats have remained for posterity, divided as follows: fifty-six F-14A, six F-14B, six F-14D(R), twelve F-14D and one NF-14D. The rest of the US Navy’s decommissioned F-14s were destroyed between 2007 and 2010 to prevent Iran from obtaining components and spare parts for its F-14s.

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